Sundance: Freezing Cold Temps, But Indie Market Is Hot


I'm here in Park City at the Wasach Brew pub at the top of Main Street, where CNBC has set up a mini studio of sorts. All the d-girls and boys (that's Hollywood-speak for "development executives") are running around in their furry boots and jeans looking to find the next big director among the four films they see a day.

And indie film fans are suffering through freezing temperatures in lines for movie tickets.

There's a sense of optimism in the air thanks to the DGA's tentative agreement with the AMPTP, which made significant progress on the issue of digital revenues. Perhaps most important, it gives the DGA jurisdiction over content created just for the internet. And while the writers might want an even greater increase in digital payments than the DGA got, this jurisdiction over new media is a huge deal.

But the buzz is really about which studios and TV networks are going to buy which films. Sundance isn't just a festival, it's a market. All the independent arms of the big studios--the Fox Searchlights and Paramount Vantages--plus the independents, like Lions Gate and the Weinstein Co. come here to pick up movies. The prices paid for indie films have been rising every year, and there's more of a demand industry-wide, as studios focus more on return-on-capital, and these lower budget movies can, if lucky, yield big profits.

And this year, because of the strike, the market is expected to be hotter than ever. Though the movie industry hasn't been hit too hard just yet, if the strike drags on, it'll really impact the potential supply of movies out there, making these already completed films showing here, a nice backup.

In an exclusive interview Miramax President Daniel Battsek talked about the pressures the strike is putting on the bidding wars at the festival. He said that while Miramax planned ahead for the strike, and doesn't have any holes in its schedule, that he sees that concern about delayed productions could push some other players to bid up. And he's cautious not to get caught up in bidding war madness.

To give a sense of how things work at Sundance, right after a screening ends a film's representation--usually from an agency like CAA, and an expert film salesman like John Sloss, will be approached by interested buyers. Sometimes a bunch of studios will all sit in different rooms in the same condo while the sales agents go between them late into the night. S

et against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains, it's pretty dramatic. Once Harvey Weinstein reportedly made an offer to a young filmmaker while standing on the street at Sundance, and insisted he immediately take or leave it.

What are the studios hoping to buy? It's pretty simple. They all want the next "Little Miss Sunshine"--pay a little, earn a ton at the box office. What's the buzz about what'll be this year's indie goldmine? I'll keep you posted.

Questions? Comments?